I Love India – A Day With The Delightful and Very Talented Anjum Anand, At Bertinets’ Cookery School

Cookery Books can be a fantastic source of inspiration and simultaneously just as frustrating, when the dish you have spent ages preparing turns out really disappointing, and in some cases inedible! I LOVE cookery books, especially where the content takes you on a journey with the author through a period of life, or travels through an unfamiliar land of exotic and tingling flavours.

When a I received a call the other week, “Hey hun, there is a nice looking Indian Cookery Book called ‘I Love India‘, by someone called Anjum Anand, do you want me to get it for you?”, my immediate response was “Yes Please”. I knew of Anjum, I had one of her earlier cookery books, and had seen some of her television series so I felt sure it was going to be good, this was to be her eighth book and as they say, practise makes perfect ;-).

I don’t know why I ended up looking at my regular Cookery School’s web page later that day, Richard Bertinet In Bath but there it was before me, “A Day with Anjum Anand, I Love India”.

Minutes later the course was booked and would be taking place a couple of weeks after my annual cookery trip to France, talk about overloaded with cooking!!!I’m very familiar with the setup at Richard’s School, this would be my six course, having spent days with the likes of Mark Hix, Dhruv Baker, José Pizzaro and Omar Allibhoy as well as the master Bread Maker himself Richard, you are always guaranteed high quality chefs, a relaxed atmosphere, great support from the team of lovely ladies that organise and clean (esp. newby Charlotte), and teaming up with like minded enthusiasts all ages, and from all walks of life who want to learn new skills. After the usual Tea, Coffee and Toast (Richards Bread is just fab) with home made conserves we were introduced to the menu we were going to prepare, in 2 groups of 4 people. Anjum explained that we were going to be all hands-on, no demonstrations as she would be working with us, explaining the necessary techniques on the way which sounded just perfect, and just ask questions if you are not sure.

The starter was to be ‘Goan’ Prawn & Coconut Cakes with Tangy Coriander Chutney, for main course we would prepare ‘Kutch’ Chicken Biryani with a Spinach and Dill Raita and Four Seed Tomato Spiced Okra, dessert being Chilled Mango, Coconut and Pearl Pudding.

Goa /ˈɡ.ə/ is a state in India within the coastal region known as the Konkan in Western India. It is bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south, with the Arabian Sea forming its Western coast. It is India’s smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Goa has highest GDP per capita among all Indian states………………….

Kutch, is a region in the extreme west of the western Indian state of Gujarat, can be traced back to prehistorical times. There are several sites related to Indus valley civilisation in the region and it is mentioned in Hindu mythology. In historical times, Kutch is mentioned in Greek writings during the time of Alexander The Great.

Biryani is an Urdu word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India, by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from “birinj”, the Persian word for rice. Another theory is that it derives from “biryan” or “beriyan” (to fry or roast).

So take what looks like a simple description of food and start to interpret the description, next minute you are in a time warp back to 5th Century India and ancient dynasties that evolved over time, as did their cuisine, taking influence from food 4000 years ago, food is not boring if you take a little time to get under the skin of its origins! Click on the various links in the text above to explore for yourself.So we started to prepare the Goan Prawns and accompanying Chutney, this is where being with the author of the book really helps, as it’s very difficult to explain texture, smell and flavour in a book, preparing it with the cook in the room and you start to pick up all the important hints and tips to get the best out of the recipe. This was a case in point with the texture required for the Prawn Cakes which needed blending, but not to extinction!!!! The correct balance of ‘glue’ to texture would provide the desired effect and so we took a step by step approach so we could see what was required.There is only one book (that I am aware of), that takes this issue full on and that’s Marcus Wareings’ “How to Cook The Perfect”, which goes a good way towards addressing the challenge of subtle technique, and is highly recommended.

So how big do you need to make these savoury Goan delights, well that would depend on whether making for an hors d’oeuvre, starter or main course, if you cannot get Panko breadcrumbs are white breadcrumbs ok, the questions kept coming, all relevant and important to the person asking them, and useful for the rest of the budding cooks.As we carried on with our preparation more questions followed, the subjective issue of herb quantities for the Chutney, to join the Goan Prawn Cakes we were making a Tangy Coriander Chutney, the ‘Tang’ provided by Lemon, with some texture from Pistachios, with Mint and Garlic to add to the flavoursome accompaniment. The consensus was that at the end of the day, everyones palate is different and adjust to what YOU like but we all agreed testing the Chutney without having some Goan Cake at the same time was the only way to ensure the flavour profile was appropriate. Shock, Horror, OMG, its delicious, we made that!!

There was happiness and surprises as we progressed to the more complicated dishes. Food from this continent is more familiar to me having had the pleasure of spending a day with Dhruv Baker, but also a couple of days with a cook from Pakistan, Sumayya Usmani where I had learned to cook a Biryani amongst other dishes of the region. But there is more than one Biryani!I love Biryani but here in the U.K. we have a little problem, I am yet to have eaten a Biryani in a restaurant or takeaway, nope, definitely not a proper Biryani, not one that even comes close. Today we MADE A BIRYANI, a proper one, from the Kutch region of India, a result.Kutch district (also spelled as Kachchh) is a district of Gujarat state in western India. Covering an area of 45,674 km², it is the largest district of India. The population of Kutch is 2,092,371. And THEY know how to make a proper Biryani.

It’s a complex dish with several stages like making a marinade, frying some dry spices, making crispy onions (not burn’t) from scratch (you can cheat, but won’t have the fragrant oil left over!), preparing the rice etc. It was great fun as we all did our bit to contribute towards the final dish.Anjum is an absolutely lovely lady, patient calm, full of enthusiasm and abound with knowledge about the food and region, her life story is really interesting and forms the start of her book I love India where the recipes for the cookery session came from. She was really happy to answer all the questions we threw at her, at times it must have seemed like a ‘barrage’ during a 17th century attack on a ‘Fortified Castle’, relentless!!

We had prepped the Goan Prawn cakes and were leaving the breadcrumbs to the last minute, the Coriander Chutney was done, Crispy Onions done,  I was on Rice duty and that was good to go too, the morning was rushing by and we needed a break.Those that have been to Richard’s School will know about the late morning break, those of you that don’t, pick a course, book it and find out for yourself as it’s part of the experience, ’nuff said.

After refreshments we carried on finishing the various dishes, the Biryani needed layering, Rice, then the Chicken that we had pre-cooked in the marinade, then more Rice. During the morning each of us had learned so many techniques, like how to tell when Garlic is properly cooked, how to make the perfect Rice, seasoning, these are the things that are so difficult to explain in a book as they involve smell, taste and texture.So what about dessert. Charlotte, one of the lovely ‘BackStage Girls’ as they are know who clean, make tea, prepare as necessary mentioned ‘Frogspawn’ a couple of times!!!

Pearl Pudding was the description in the recipe notes we were given, ah, Tapioca ‘Pearls’, aka Frogspawn for those that remember from their school days. We were given another idea which I am not going to mention, book some time with Anjum to find out more. We prepped Mango cubes, made a Mango and Coconut Cream heavy ‘soup’, with the consistency of Double Cream, boiled the ‘Frogspawn’ and soon everything was done and we were sitting down to a very enjoyable lunch.The Goan Prawn Cakes and Tangy Coriander Chutney were outstanding, really tasty and the Tang of the Chutney went very well indeed. I reckon (only a personal opinion), this could be served with the addition of a Kachumber, a salad of Onion, Tomato and Cucumber (with a Tamarind Dressing), which would be a perfect match and make a lovely lunch or light supper.It was so nice to be eating a proper Biryani again, light, fragrant with textures and pings of flavour from the addition of Currants and Almonds fried in Ghee, and the Fried Onions I had prepared earlier. It was bl@@dy tasty as they would say in Australia!

As I was travelling to the venue in Bath, I was searching YouTube for any Videos of Anjum and came across a hilarious live recording from an Australian breakfast show a few months back, 3 women who seemed to be clueless about Semolina and the difference between YoGhuurt (not a typo, they make it sound like that), and Milk, it was really funny. Anjum was getting it from every direction and still managed to do a great job. We discussed the experience in the morning which was really enlightening, thanks Anjum.

Time for Dessert,  And an apology!We were all so busy commenting on the starter and main, asking Anjum so many questions and having a great foodie conversation I forgot to take a picture of the dessert. We could not get ‘proper’ Mango’s and those we had didn’t have the best flavour, although the result actually tasted Ok.

There was no consensus on the Tapioca pearls, I was a bit contentious and suggested using Maftoul or Moghrabieh  from the Middle East, larger sphericals and used for savoury dishes I reckon they would work really well, so something I am going to try in the future as an experiment.

So another days cooking at Bertinet’s with the lovely Anjum Anand, a brilliant day as usual, learnt loads, cooked lots, ate a bit too it was great fun and I cannot wait until next time. If you see one of Anjum’s course I would highly recommend them. Usual rules apply, I paid full price for this course and all views are my own. I have not been coerced in any way.

 

……………………………….Until Next Time…………..L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cooking &… more Cooking, Damn it’s so Good!

Photo 20-05-2017, 18 14 22It’s late and I have been having some great interaction with my new ‘buddie’ Marc. Today has been full on as usual, with a significant amount of cooking, processes, prepping food and spending a lot of time reducing sauces! The ‘international’ group is getting on really well, joking laughing and generally making fun at every opportunity!

Today’s menu(s) are quite (read very), comprehensive (read complicated) and included Haddock ‘Burger’ with Lime, Filet of Sea Bream au four, sautéed Squid with Vegetables and Squid Ink Sauce, Duckling with Honey Spiced Sauce, Cream Chiboust with Lemon, Strawberry Salad with Garriguette Basil.  Jeez my stomach is stretching already.Photo 21-05-2017, 10 23 03I am starting with what was probably the least squeamish (and easiest) thing to do, prepping the Squid. Removing the membrane that covers the white ‘flesh’. Getting rid of the ‘beak’,  the hard bony mouth that is inedible, sorting out the tentacles and then dealing with the body, it only takes a short while and all is done.Photo 21-05-2017, 11 53 24The Brioche style buns for the Haddock Burgers needed a couple of proving stages, they were buttery and rich, with a pillowy light texture, well worth the effort. Topped with sesame and poppy-seed to add both texture and flavour.Photo 21-05-2017, 16 29 10The duck was interesting, but in a really positive way coooking wise. I am not sure what happened but I just got on with it, maybe I have learnt enough but it came natural seperating the various components and in seconds the Breast, Thigh Wings etc. were done in the right way and lay before me, job done! Sorry Duck……Photo 21-05-2017, 17 56 31Oh, we had Bream to sort out too, another moment of hmmm, I think I know how to deal with this. It seems the past investment in cookery courses has finally payed off and confidence is growing and growing all the time.Photo 21-05-2017, 12 45 38The Haddock Burger (we had Haddock Fillets so no preparation needed), had a Onion relish to provide acidity, dressed leaves, baked Tomato and Lime cream, it was very tasty and very well-balanced. we all munched away commenting on our own personal tastes, all positive. The gang of seven is working like a well oiled engine, despite the language challenges which make translating ‘work orders’ from Robert even more interesting, he has the patience of a French Saint!photo-21-05-2017-16-42-27.jpgWe made some extremely complex sauces during the day. Hard frying the Duck carcass, adding Onion, Carrot and Celery followed by White Wine and Water and reducing by over 50% to provide a really full flavoured base, full of all the richness that the remaining Duck scraps could release. Photo 21-05-2017, 17 36 19These stocks, if done properly do take time but the investment is well worth while in both depth and layers of flavour, it’s what the professionals do. When at home I usually have days where i make a bulk load, and make up 1 pint freezer bags full, ready for when I need them.photo-21-05-2017-17-35-18.jpgWhilst the stock was doing its stuff in a separate pan we were getting a ‘spice base’ ready, Acacia Honey was cooked until a light to medium brown, then adding Sherry Vinegar, Orange and Grapefruit pieces, Fresh Ginger, Five Spice, Cinnamon,  White Pepper and the Coriander and finally topped up with the reduced Duck Stock, then reduce even further.photo-21-05-2017-10-00-15.jpgThe Squid did not escape either, Shallots, Fish Stock (from the Bream carcasses), Noilly-Prat and Lemon juice were reduced. Then Tomato skins and seeds etc. were added from Tomatoes we had turned into a concasse, then some crushed Garlic, Tomato Concentrate and Ground Almonds were added as the reducing continued, with Squid Ink being the final ingredient, Phewwwww!Photo 21-05-2017, 13 25 29The Squid dish was very complicated, but seriously tasty.  Lots of processes the end result was well worth the effort. We determined that about 70% of the time in preparation was in the stock’s and sauces, which were rich and umptious.photo-21-05-2017-09-52-26.jpgLittle goes to waste on these classes, making the most of all the ingredients is quite an important ethos to get into, stretching as far as using the some of the skins we removed from the Tomatoes to make an EXTREMELY tasty edible garnish, crispy Tomato Skins!

Yep, you heard it, spread some Olive Oil on a tray, lay the skins shiny side down and season, bake in the oven for about an hour on a low heat. Believe me, they were a revelation, you can see them strategically placed on the final squid dish above, along with some Filo diamond ‘crisps’, that added an additional pleasant texture.Photo 21-05-2017, 20 04 15We made what was a simple pepper suace to go with the Bream, accompaniement was lightly fried Courgette Julienne, it was a lovely plate of food. As we sit down to each meal, after several hours tuition and cooking there is always wine on the table, Red, White and Rosé to wash things down. Fresh bread of numerous types is also plentiful, useful for mopping up those sauces that required so much effort to make!Photo 21-05-2017, 20 43 01About 70% of an Artichoke is thown away during preparation, removing the leaves, cutting off the top and getting rid of the furry center they are an aquired taste, one that seems really enjoyable to me, probably in part due to the number of times I have visited France now. They are a bit fiddly and have to be left in acidulated water until needed as they dis-colour very quickly.

We had then with the Duck, along with some thickly sliced Mushrooms that had been fried in oil and butter.

Our first tutor Robert Abraham leaves us first thing, he is such a great cook and will be missed, but will be replaced by Jean-Marc Boyer who will bring a new dimension to the course (and some deserts, which should be interesting)!

……………………..Until next time……………L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

To revel in ‘Revel’ – Continuing International Adventures at The French House Party

Photo 20-05-2017, 10 23 26I woke up this morning feeling really good, the sun was shining and despite a late(ish) night there was a sense of excitement in my bones. The itinerary at The French House Party is full on, lots to pack in over a few days so the time is used wisely.

Breakfast was lovely, a selection of fresh fruits, yoghurt, Cheese and Ham of various sorts, Croissants, Baguette (the proper stuff) the choice was endless.

We were heading to Revel today, a quaint town with a 14th Century central Square and covered roof, Saturday is market day the reason for our trip.  I have been to Revel before but it is a place you find difficult to not be attracted to, if you are an adventurous foodie like me.

Locals mingling and bustling around the many stalls, buying and selling mostly food of the highest quality with some very unusual options as will become clear shortly.

I am becoming to believe you can tell the pulse and passion of a nation by its cuisine, more importantly how it un-ashamedly sticks to tradition which some may find challenging, Cuy (Guinea Pig in Peru), Cazu Marzu (Maggot Cheese) in Sardinia and France has a few favourites the most notable being (in my own mind) Escargots (Snails) and cuisses de grenouille (Frogs Legs)!2017-05-20 08.52.20Wandering around the many food stands was a delight, fresh artisan Goats cheese, stunning proper Bread that had come fresh out of the oven that morning, Aligote, a smooth blend of cheese and potato and………Ducks Hearts!!2017-05-20 09.14.03There was also a marinated variety, dowsed in Olive Oil and Piment d’Espelette a special variety of pepper from the Basque region of France, I so love the passion this country shows for regional specialities!

The market was buzzing, locals embacing the french tradition of kissing either cheek locally known as ‘faire la bise”, friends greeting as if they had not seen each other for months, live music rolling from the coffee shops entertaining the Gitaines smoking regulars downing coffee, strong enough to sink a battleship.

As an aside, I am writing this blog sampling a very good Domaine Samarel Red Wine listening to the French radio. I have a ‘Zippo’ size FM Stero Radio and doing a quick tune I can pick up over 30 (yes THIRTY) ANALOGUE STEREO radio stations 45 minutes from Toulouse, all rocking and good quality!!!!2017-05-20 09.31.07The market is considerably ‘savoury’ but also caters for the sweet tooth, which is a bit of a challenge for me but one of my new American serious foodie buddies (he is a chef and food traveller/journalist) said the Nougat was really good (that’s not quite accurate but you get my drift). #awesomePhoto 20-05-2017, 15 28 15Back in the mini bus we headed back to foodie ‘HQ’ to start the next cooking session, our ‘light lunch’. As we got ready the kitchen was prepared for us. This lunch was interesting, Sliced Potato, Herb Pesto (Rocket and Spinach), Roasted Tomato (only lightly) Salmon and White Cheese, followed by an Apricot Tart. By the way, our tutor Robert Abraham is an absolutely bl@@dy awesome cook with a lifetime of experience. He is VERY patient and open to ‘suggestions’ if they make sense. He puts a LOT of effort into the menus to ensure students learn as many techniques as possible.Photo 20-05-2017, 12 58 04The starter was extremely tasty, the Pesto had lost a little bit of its freshness (and vibrant colour) but that happpens sometimes, it was still so tasty though, quite rich and took about an hour to prepare. The white Cheese might be difficut to get in the U.K., it’s a bit like a Cream Cheese but a bit more runny. Drops of Sesame Oil on the Asparagus added another dimension.photo-20-05-2017-12-13-36.jpgSome of the tastiest food can be quite simplistic as in the case of the dessert, until I wanted to add a minor addition! A Simple flaky pastry, loaded with pitted fresh Apricots purchased earlier that day and sprinkled with Demerara Sugar. Nope, I wanted to try an experiment and add a savoury note, some Lemon Thyme. So we went 50/50 to compare the difference. (I obviously liked the addition of the Thyme but could had done with some more as the Apricots were very good and had a strong flavour).Photo 20-05-2017, 13 32 18After a break we were back in the kitchen, I said this course was full on! So here we go, Tandoori Style Roast Langoustines with baby Leeks.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 16 55Looks simple huh, hell no! There are a load of processes that go into making this dish, book the course to find out as I am not going to tell you, only that the result had everyone going oh, and ah. It was damn good. Yes, damn good.

The main was Young Lauragai Pigeon with Sweet Clover, Confit of Shallots, Carrots and Honey. You think the starter looked easy the main was full of even more processes. Our ‘group’ of guests is working really well together, old and relatively young we are having great fun, joking and laughing and putting the world to right at the same time which makes the whole experience so great.

One of the guests is Vasily, a Russian living in Switzerland. He is a genuinely lovely guy and we have all been having some great conversation whilst preparing mise en place and eating, drinking and sharing stories and life experiences.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 48 57We all agreed this dish was ‘bl@@dy rich’  but also ‘Bl@@dy Tasty’, it was awesome. This is my interpretation of the plating with a ‘Ying and Yang’ Carrot puree, the three Carrot Tronçon were cooked under a cartouche in Carrot juice, Orange Juice and another ‘secret’ ingredient! There is Pigeon Breast on Foie Gras, Pigeon Leg on Shallot Confit and the two sauces are Carrot and reduced Pigeon jus with some ‘special’ ingredients.Photo 20-05-2017, 20 34 25Anyone can cook a Chocolate Soufflé if they know the process. We used a Crème ‘Pat’ and Meringue mixture to great effect and the results were light, fluffy, silky and delicious.Photo 20-05-2017, 11 52 38So another adventerous day at The French House Party. It’s only day 2 and much has been learnt, the world has been put to rights multiple times, new cooking techniques  have been learnt, we have all probably gained at least an ounce in weight!

It’s an enlightening experience and really takes you way from the hustle and bustle of work which is the main reason I am attracted to these kinds of ‘holidays’. It’s hard work but VERY rewarding.

Breakfast at 8:00 and starting in the kitchen at 9:00 so time to call it a day.

………………………….Until next time…………….L8ers…………….

 

 

 

Dairy Lard and Olive Oil, Oh, and Bomba – All about Spain with Omar Allibhoy at The Bertinet Cookery School

The weather was miserable as I jumped onboard the train to Bath Spa station, on arrival the sun was shinning out of The Bertinet Cookery School as Spanish Chef Supremo Omar Allibhoy was in town, teaching 12 eager cookery enthusiasts and I was on the list!

I booked this course a while back having invested in ‘Tapas Revolution’ over 4 year’s ago, which was Omars’ first book. I spent most of my wife’s birthday in 2013 preparing various Tapas which featured in the book and posted on an earlier blog post HERE. It was also our silver wedding anniversary that year so a good excuse to have some tasty food, I still remember it to this day.

There were 12 of us on the course (a full house) and as usual some familiar faces, friends that had been on previous courses we all settled in very quickly and learnt what the agenda was for the day.We were going to prepare several dishes from different parts of Spain and at the end sit down on the communal table and ‘feast’, which is always a pleasant and fitting end to several hours graft in the kitchen! On the menu was Gazpacho de Sandia (chilled Watermelon soup), Higaditos al Jerez Dulce (Chicken Livers with Sweet Sherry and Spices), Arroz Melosos de Seta (Paella with Mushrooms and Cod), Ensaidmada Mallorquina (Rolled Flaky Pastry).Blimey, apart from the really tasty and slightly un-familiar menu some new techniques to get to grips with, we started on the Mallorcan dessert. An enriched dough was made using an ‘industrial’ grade mixer purely due to the quantity we were making, you could do this in a Kenwood or Kitchen Aid quite easily. We had to get the gluten working hard so this was not a 5 minute process, once done (about 10-15 minutes), the dough was left to rest whilst we worked on the other dishes.As we followed through the menu, Omar spent lots of time explaining some of the interesting facts about Spanish Cuisine, it’s ‘subtle’ not in your face and I personally think it’s a shame that a vast number of tourists only seem to focus on fast food chains and ‘British fry up’s’, Spain has so much more to offer if you make a little effort.

You can think of Spain as lots of regional cook books we learnt, the climate also dictates the methods of cooking but you will have to try and book a course with Omar to find out more, its really interesting.The Ensaidmada was challenging to make, several processes were required after the dough had rested as you can see from the pictures above. I imagined dear old Spanish ladies working away in their kitchens making everything from hand including making the dough without a mixer!

It’s hands on with resting between each process, you are making a VERY thin pastry by hand, which also has a layer of ‘Pork Lard’ spread thinly on top.  Yes, you heard it right, ‘Lard’ is an integral part of this very special dessert.We had some prepared Stock on the hob which was going to be used to make the Paella dish. This was not a traditional ‘dry’ Paella so familiar to tourists but  a ‘sloppy’ one even beyond the wetness of a Risotto.

Omar took time again to explain the Spanish Rice ‘Bomba‘, don’t believe all you read though, speak to a Spanish cook who know what they are talking about as it’s a challenging Rice to use and timing is critical to get a perfect result. We had to reduce the Stock and add ‘hard’ fried Onion, Pepper and Mushrooms with Tomato, Paprika and Saffron before going back to the dessert to finish the preparation.So, we are making a dessert and then add Sobrasada melted into more Pork Lard and spread it all over the stretched dough, Yummmmm!

There are several variants of this dessert, we were going to make both a sweet and savoury version. Once spread gentle rolling is required, I was fortunate to be working with Vivien, who unfortunately had broken her arm a few days previous but still joined in as much as she could. If you have an interest in Preserves, please check out http://www.vivienlloyd.com  as she is an expert in traditional methods and runs courses etc. (I didn’t get paid for the plug btw, she was great fun to work with).Who loves Chicken Livers? Surprisingly Omar put his hand up as he asked the question. Fine in Parfait and pâté but cooked, nope, except this way.  This was to be an appetizer to get the taste buds singing before the Gazpacho. Marinated in some ‘special’ ingredients you can find the recipe in Omar’s new book ‘Spanish Made Simple’, I invested in a copy before departing and look forward to cooking some of the recipes within.Rather than just show and tell, Omar was also hands-on, assisting and guiding all 12 of us during the 5-6 hours of cooking we were to complete before sitting down and eating our efforts. He was very enthusiastic and great fun, telling us more about his experiences in the restaurant industry and giving us hints and tips as we prepared each dish.

Also in the kitchen were the ‘Bertinet Baker Girls’ who cleaned, helped clear up, sort out ingredients, make teas/coffees, snacks etc. They always do an amazing job and help make the sessions run very smoothly.You have to stretch the Ensaidmada before ‘gently’ coiling and allowing to prove for a couple of hours, traditionally this would be done overnight to develop more flavour but our time was limited. Once risen it goes into a hot oven until a deep brown, not the light golden colour we are normally used to when baking.Ignore the ‘rustic’ look of the Chicken Livers, they were to die for, absolutely delightful, tangy, sweet and soft. We served them on some toasted Sour Dough and decided to crack open the wine at the same time as dinner was nearly ready and quick taster of these would get us over the line.The Ensaidmada’s were ready in about 19 minutes at 190deg, the top one is the savoury version, you can seen small pieces of Sobrasada speckled on the surface. The Gazpacho was probably the easiest dish we made, assemble the ingredients and whizz in a blender. Adding Melon was unusual but it was not long before we sat done and started tasting, chatting and talking about the techniques we had learnt and discussing food in general.The Gazpacho was delicious, it was quite hot in the cookery school so a cool refreshing slightly sweet starter did the job perfectly. Bomba Rice is very picky, you HAVE to get the timings correct otherwise you end up with over cooked grains that are like sludge. Shortly after finishing our starter the Arroz Melosos De Seta was ready for the final ingredient to be added, Salt Cod. This only needed a few minutes and we were ready to serve.You can see the slightly ‘sloppy’ nature of the dish in the picture above. It is supposed to be like this, wetter than a Risotto it did taste subtle and was also delicious, the Paprika creating warmth and smokiness, the mushrooms meatiness and the Rice had textures but probably not the al dente described in Italian Cuisine, it was slightly beyond that stage.Once the Ensaidmada is cooked both versions are given a good coating of Icing sugar. The savoury version might be considered a bit like the Moroccan Pastilla dish, Pigeon Pie with Cinnamon and Icing Sugar in Filo Pastry, but in this case we are using Sobrasada which is a cured spicy Pork.  It was unusually delicious again, difficult to describe unless you can taste it yourself.

So, another cookery course over, Omar was brilliant and everyone was commenting on how much fun we had, and lots learnt too. These days are hard work but really good fun, for me time to mentally escape from day to day life they provide an environment to learn new skills meet people with similar interests and most important add to the repertoire in the kitchen with dishes from around the world.

A big thank-you to Richard Bertinet who is able to attract some seriously good Chefs who are also good at teaching, these skills do not often come in the same package. A massive thank-you to Omar Allibhoy  who took time out of running a significant business to teach 12 people some skills and techniques you cannot easily learn from a book, if you get the chance to go on a course with Omar, book quickly!

As usual, I paid full price for this course and received no incentive to write this blog, the description above is my personal experience and one I would highly recommend.

 

……………………Until Next Time………….L8ers………………….

 

 

Please don’t cut your finger on a Bagel! Musings and Reviews from around the country.

2016-11-30-09-31-37It’s been an interesting few weeks as the year slowly draws to a close, and I have managed to eat in some really good restaurants as my work takes me from Norfolk to Cornwall and back home again to Newbury.

There have been several stand-out experiences that deserve a mention but before I dive into food I need to explain the title of this blog. After several years of ‘umming and arrring’ I decided to invest in some new knives for the kitchen recently, scouring the web and looking at numerous suppliers I finally settled on some 67 Layer Damascus beasts, they were an investment to last me forever but nowhere near as expensive as some of the more popular brands as seen on TV cookery competitions and programmes. Endorsed by Tom Aitken and others, if they were good enough for him then they might be ok!!

I ordered the set, and impressive they were too, stunning with the effect of the layers and nice and sharp… Ouch, within a day of using them I had managed to take the tip of one of my fingers!! It was being careless that did it, with a paring knife too, not even a big shiny cooks knife.

Later that evening I was a bit peckish so sliced a Cinnamon Bagel in half, popped it into the toaster and waited as the aroma’s drifted around the kitchen. As I removed them, one of the edges had become ‘paper sharp’ and next thing I had another small cut, just unbelievable, haven’t cut myself in years and within hours two cuts and one with a ‘BAGEL’!!!!

img_omadqhSo back to the food, in no particular order the 1st award goes to The Bladebone at Chapel Row nr Upper BuckleBerry which is in between Reading and Newbury. We have eaten their 3 times in the last few weeks, and only knew of its existence because of twitter, friends advertising its greatness, and yes, it is VERY good. The last visit was for Sunday lunch, traditional Roast Beef with all the trimmings cooked to perfection. We absolutely loved the way the Veg was served as above, very generous too (and the rest of the food was awesome Richie).

20161117_204700The next dish was a surprise, Satay Chicken & Crab, Vanilla Lime Custard, Spiced Peanuts and Cucumber served at the Seckford Hall Hotel, a 15th Century establishment nr Woodbridge in Norfolk. I was here on business and the Duck Two Ways with Parsnip and White Chocolate Puree and Pickled Blackberries was another standout dish.

20161129_194911Next, it was a trip to ‘Hooked‘ in Truro, Cornwall on another business trip. A taster of Crab Thermidor, Crab & Sweetcorn Chowder and Hand-picked Crab Salad it was just delicious. It’s so nice to have access to such amazing fresh ingredients which with a little care and attention can deliver such amazing results.

20161129_202351Still ‘Hooked’! I was a bit extravagant with the main. I should explain that my employer does not pay for all these meals, I get a small daily subsidy when I am travelling which would cover a typical meal, but I choose to use the opportunity to ‘invest’ my own cash in something a bit more extravagent, in this case 1/2 a Lobster!, Crevettes, Scallops, Frites, home made Tartare Sauce, and a fresh dressed salad.  It was stunning, sweet, perfectly cooked and well worth the investment.

2016-12-01-20-56-50Now for the star performer, not that the others were bad, they were all excellent and I would have no hesitation is recommending them but Isidro’s is something a bit special. Isidro’s is a ‘pop-up’ based out of 16 Bartholomew Street Newbury which used to be the home of ‘brebis’, a family run Michelin quality French Restaurant which has just started a couple of new venture’s, the guest pop-up, and a fine dining establishment that comes to you, in the form of a double decker bus called ‘Nomadic’. Isidro’s is the 1st pop-up guest with ‘Georgian’ food to follow care of Caucasian Spice Box as well as fine French care of the owner Sam more details HERE.

2016-12-01-19-13-51The menu consisted of 5 Courses (well 6 actually, the Filipino spring rolls above were an extra surprise), not rushed, beautifully presented, packed full of flavour and not ‘tuned’ to english tastes (chilli is chilli).

2016-12-01-19-41-20Never had Japanese Gyoza’s before, they were a triumph perfectly cooked, melt in the mouth and just delicious.

2016-12-01-19-20-32The Vietnamese Salad Rolls were just as tasty, one had already been eaten before I remembered to capture the moment, served with a proper Peanut sauce and Nuoc Cham, this food was not out of jars or tins and it just kept coming (but at a nice steady pace).

2016-12-01-20-06-10So, I don’t ‘get’ Sweet Potato, it just seems wrong and is something I steer clear of with a passion. Not tonight as one of the mains was a Sweet Potato Red Thai Curry, damn it was sooooo good. The other main for us meat eaters was KFC (Korean Fried Chicken). Now I have made this myself, a recipe from Judy Joo’s book with Gochujang Sauce, this put mine to shame so I will be speaking to them and gaining some clues as to how they cook theirs, it was brilliant.

2016-12-01-20-49-05Dessert was finally here and we just had enough room to eat it, light, tasty fragrant Pandan, Coconut, Pineapple, Marscapone and Mango Puree, which arrived after I took the picture above.

So a quick tour of several places to eat and they were all damn sooo good, Isidro’s pipped the post though due to the experience, The Bladebone is also standout and should you be in the area check it out, I would advise booking first to avoid disappointment as it does get very busy and you could be unfortunately turned away. It’s a favourite of Chris Tarrant, who lives nearby, he was supping a pint last time we were there!!

Next week I am having lunch with a friend at recently Michelin Star awarded ‘The Woodspeen’ so watch out for a review.

……………………….Until next time…………………L8ers……………………

A National Treasure Teaches Nose to Tail (or Feather), a Day with Mark Hix (At Bertinets Cookery School)

2016-10-15-14-40-39If you ask anyone who has followed the TV food series ‘Great British Menu” over the years despite the 100’s of great dishes presented to the judging panel consisting of Pru Leith, Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort, there is probably ONLY ONE dish that everyone remembers, ‘Stargazy Pie’.

This dish was presented in the 2007 series by Mark Hix and went on to win the main course and was joined by another Mark Hix recipe, ‘Perry Jelly with summer fruits and elderberry ice cream’ which won the dessert section of the competition.

These dishes were to form part of a banquet hosted by the British Ambassador to France, ably joined by Richard Corrigan and Sat Bains, both extremely competent and Michelin Star holders!photo-15-10-2016-11-43-54‘Does anyone not eat meet’? started the banter as we took advantage of the Sourdough and Brioche toast prepared by Richard Bertinets’ able team, I was back at the Bertinet Cookery School in Bath for the 5th time, it’s VERY good and the range of different guest Chef’s, convivial nature of the location, and limited number of attendees make for an excellent experience. Mark Hix was our tutor for the day and everyone was bubbling with excitement as to what we were going to cook.

photo-15-10-2016-14-23-26After a demonstration of handling Partridge, removing the legs, taking the crown off, removing the thighbone from the legs and starting a game broth we quickly prepared the ‘Far Breton’, an amazing dessert made with Prunes steeped in spiced Rum, a speciality of Normandy.

I made some of these Prunes over a year ago and they are still in the sealed jar, now I have the basis for a dessert that can be made in minutes and cooked in no time at all, (It was delicious)!

photo-15-10-2016-10-58-41Dessert done, we focussed on the rest of what was going to be a very special lunch for us all. Mark explained his philosophy of using everything in his cooking method, and providing some fascinating facts as to how much produce that could be used to good effect, ends on the scrap heap.

The basis for our Partridge broth was a home made Chicken stock, as you can see above as we prepared the elements of the dish pretty much everything else went in the broth mix, including onion skins (flavour and colour), the Partridge carcass (we were going to roast the crown), the offcuts from the legs, all adding more and more flavour.

photo-15-10-2016-11-43-54Having had the demonstration earlier it was now our turn to prepare the partridge, Mark gave us a quick repeat of the process again and we all set to the task in hand, slicing and cutting within a few minutes we all proudly had our crowns prepared and more flavour in the Broth pot.

photo-15-10-2016-11-18-13Our Roasted Partridge was going to sit on ‘Yorkshire Toast’. You will have to go on the course and hope Mark shows you how to prepare it, think of Bread Sauce fried in breadcrumbs! I now have three of his books and the recipe is not in any of them so I feel kind of honoured to have learnt something that is not mainstream, and tastes seriously good.

photo-15-10-2016-11-18-03No apologies for some of the pictures, all the processes we went through ensured we wasted nothing and continually added flavour as much as possible. Remember the Partridge legs I mentioned earlier, that we removed and took out the thigh bone. They needed poaching for about 15 minutes so they also went into the Broth pot. They were then going into a mixture of Buttermilk and spices before being floured and frying to crisp up.

photo-15-10-2016-11-55-55There is always a break or two during the cookery school sessions, and the ‘Bertinet Girls’ produce some amazing delights to whet the tastebuds. As these beauties came out the oven the room filled with the smell of chocolate and fudge, and as we drank Coffee and Tea they were demolished in minutes!photo-15-10-2016-11-39-06The Partridge legs cooked and dried, then got the Buttermilk treatment with some added spices. The legs are often ignored or wasted, we were going to have them as a tasty snack, dipped in a Membrillo sauce which we made later in the session.

Throughout the day we chatted to each other and asked Mark (and Richard) questions about food, their philosophy and they also volunteered anecdotes about their life experiences, which just made the event even more fascinating. These guys have been in the industry a long time and have so much experience and knowledge to give anyone who is interested, hints and tips about pretty much anything food related.

photo-15-10-2016-11-53-30Our menu for the day was going to be;

  • Buttermilk Fried Partridge Legs, with Membrillo Sauce
  • Partridge Broth with Woodland Mushrooms
  • Roast Partridge on ‘Yorkshire Toast’ with Elderberries
  • Far Breton

Once we were happy with the seasoning of the Broth we prepared a ‘garnish’ which would add more flavour and texture to the dish, Wild Mushroom, Celery and Sea Purslane.photo-15-10-2016-13-01-51I didn’t manage to get a ‘pretty’ picture of the Partridge legs as they were gone in seconds, Richard fried them and presented them ‘chef style’ on a plate. Dipped in the Membrillo sauce they were absolutely delish, washed down with some wine which started to flow for those that wanted as we neared dinner.

photo-15-10-2016-13-33-49As we finished the various courses, the table was prepared for lunch by Richards’ team. He epitomises a ‘convivial’ lunch, long table, wine, and the result is a party like atmosphere despite the fact we had all been on our feet for several hours, listening intently to Marks wisdom as we prepared our gourmet menu.photo-15-10-2016-13-39-23The Partridge broth was completed by adding the ‘garnish’ and served by the lovely team that support Richard, Fionn and Co., who work tirelessly making coffee and tea, cakes and helping clear up and making the day go so smoothly. It was just amazing, full of flavour, texture from the Mushrooms and Celery, and supported by lots of fresh homemade Bertinet bread.

photo-15-10-2016-13-59-04Next was the Partridge on ‘Yorkshire Toast’ with Elderberries. At the start of the day we had a debate on whether Game was popular with the students, several found Game Ok, some not so keen and part of the experience was to prove that when cooked properly, it was delightful.  Guess what? It was Bl@@dy delicious both succulent and tender, lovely flavour and enhanced by the Yorkshire Toast and Elderberries, we all complemented the Chefs in the kitchen and patted ourselves on the back, the party was in full swing.

photo-15-10-2016-14-23-26The dessert, was simple but complex at the same time, the Prunes exploded with flavour, the soft brulee like batter melting in the mouth.

So another really successful trip to the Bertinet Cookery School, met and learnt from a legend, Mark Hix, learnt so much again and now looking forward to my next trip, watch the blog for the review early in 2017.

Just to be clear, I paid full price for this course and received no incentives to write this blog. It’s my own reflection of an amazing day with a great bunch of people. I left full, with a massive smile on my face, 2 more of Mark’s books which he kindly signed, and a pack of L’hirondelle live yeast which I learnt to use at the Bread making course I did a while back.

If there is one cookery school in the UK that I would give top marks, Bertinets gets 10/10 (again). Thanks Mark and Richard and the team for a fabulous day.

 

………………………………Until next time L8ers………………………………………………….

 

Fish & Crustaceans – Another Amazing Week in Gramont

File 25-06-2016, 09 47 18The stunning Lot-et-Garonne region sits in the South West of France and is home to the Gascony Cookery School based in Gramont, run by David and Vikki Chance, and Bernard Corbière. The school runs from ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ chambre d’hote, the French equivalent of a Bed and Breakfast and ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ Auberge, the excellent traditional restaurant run by Bernard.

I had received an email in November 2015, “we are happy to announce that the Gascony Cookery School’s new Fish and Crustacean Course……..”, with only 8 places and two filled I booked straight away. The school is very familiar to me, having attended a course in 2014 and remembering a fantastic time, It was difficult to count down the months until the day came to depart.20160621_111855There is a SERIOUS amount of cooking on this course and it is excellent value for money, preparing and eating local French traditional cuisine, three courses, with local cheese and copious quantities of wine to wash things down twice a day, and don’t forget the breakfast, you don’t go hungry.

A trip to a local market to buy produce for the meals cooked is part of the experience, armed with a shopping list, basket and some euro’s you wander to select the various fresh vegetables and herbs which you use later in the week. A surprise trip to a fantastic vineyard, with an impromptu picnic with stunning scenery finishes off the week, so the experience envelops and immerses you in French country life.20160621_152005There were 8 of us on the course, here we have left to right Julia (From Tasmania!), Elena and her mum Judith, David (the chef/host) and John, in the kitchen were two friends from St. Petersburg (Russia), the attendees come from all over the world, in this case everyone but Elena had attended at least one previous course, some more than one which demonstrates how good the Gascony Cookery School really is. This was a session on gutting, de-scaling and filleting fish, we were all very comfortable and confident by the end of the week.20160622_123937We had a comprehensive agenda starting most days with breakfast at 8:30, and cooking starting at 9:00. The times are really important, there was a lot to get through and we could not afford to get behind as we would not have anything to eat.

Everyone mucks in and helps with clearing down as each dish is finished and the next started. Examples on the menu included Mussell Soup with infused Saffron, Lobster a l’americaine, Scallop Quenelles in Chicken Consommé (yes, we made a Consommé from scratch), Rillettes Of Trout, Bouillabaisse………etc. For desserts our efforts included Millefeuille aux Pommes, Pièce Montée (aka Croquembouche), Almond & Orange Cake (which was so so good) we made about 18 different dishes in total, so you learn ‘A LOT’ of techniques and processes!20160620_131400-1 (1)So would I recommend this school, hell yeah it’s awesome. My second visit was just like the 1st which is difficult to describe as you HAVE to experience it for yourself. Just to be clear, I paid full price and have received no incentives for this review, it’s me, what I think and as good as a description of the experience I can give.20160622_081928The scenery is stunning, the weather was good enough to eat outside several times peaking at 41 deg on one day. It’s a trip for people who want to learn, definitely not one for lazing around so it takes your mind away from the thought of work and within a day, I could not tell you what day it was. The hosts David, Vikki and Bernard make you so welcome it really is like being part of an extended family!20160620_162012A course like this needs excellent ingredients, seafood HAS to be fresh and ours was no exception. The planning that goes into ensuring the right products are available is not easy, especially when the school location is in the middle of nowhere!

We had the most amazing Lobster (alive) and Crab (also alive), the rest of the fish was the same (but not alive!!) with bright eyes and beautiful red gills so the resultant dishes were just sublime. There was no ‘sharing’ of ingredients, it was a Lobster each, a Sea Bass each, a Red Mullet each so we all got the chance to learn and practise the gutting, de-scaling, and filleting several times gaining more and more confidence each time.20160622_125022-1It was not just about preparing Fish and Crustaceans, the stunning Crab Tart required a very delicate ‘Pâte Brisée’, a REALLY short pastry which had to be chilled for a couple of days and was an absolute challenge to get into the tart tin, it was well worth it, the results were outstanding. 20160621_215945Just as difficult, I think even more so was the ‘Pâte Sablée’, a sweet version for the Walnut and Honey tart we made, it was very crumbly and needed a lot of work to line the tart tin properly but the the end result made it well worth it. Add to that making proper multi layered stocks and prepping veg it’s full on at the Gascony Cookery School but really good fun.

If you like cooking and fancy doing something a bit different point you browser at http://www.gasconcook.co.uk as I did, I will be returning in the future as they also do an advanced week which I have not done yet, and a shorter charcuterie course too.

It’s a fantastic experience, you will learn loads and make new friends with a common interest so give it a go, you will not be disappointed with amazing hosts David, Vikki and Bernard.

 

………………………..Until next time, L8ers……………………………………

 

 

 

Nasi Goreng, Testing Steenbergs Spice Blend – (Awesome)

WP_20150606_17_56_50_ProAs you will notice I tend not to use spice blends or ready made sauces in my cooking, there are a few exceptions such as رأس الحانوت (Ras el Hanout), which is a North African version of Garam Masala as used in Indian cuisine, and the recent use of the award winning Mums Masala Sauce which was very good and well worth the venture.

Before my recent break abroad, I received a parcel in the post from the lovely people at Steenbergs. I have had the pleasure of meeting Sophie and Axel the owners, and toured their premises as part of a review a while back, so some sample testers with the opportunity to provide feedback was an offer I could not resist. My first ‘test’ is a Spice blend for Nasi Goreng, a mix of 8 spices which were nestling in the jar below (obviously the picture is after the cooking!!).

WP_20150607_11_29_09_ProYou may recall a Delia Smith series when she ‘cheated’ making some typical dishes but using some shortcuts to reduce the time in the kitchen, well this is my version of ‘Cheats’ Nasi Goreng, otherwise known as Indonesian Fried Rice.

The shortcuts make use of pre-prepared rice (I used Basmati), some Fried Onions I had picked up at my oriental supermarket earlier in the week, (they were an epiphany and I think I will be using them more often), and the Nasi Goreng Spice mix.

Having done some research on Nasi Goreng there were some other ingredients I would need to use in order to add some authenticity, (I am not saying the spice blend was not authentic, far from it), but traditional Nasi Goreng contains at least one more key ingredient, Kecap Manis (Indonesian Soy Sauce).

WP_20150607_10_52_32_ProKecap Manis has the addition of Palm Sugar, and has been featured before on my blog, in dishes such as Babi Kecap. It is thick and gloopy and was the only other ingredient that would be cooked with the Rice and Spices, well expect for some spring onions, cut at an angle!!

So for this dish, for two hungry people you will need.

  • 2 Packets Pre-prepared Rice
  • 1 Large Chicken Breast (or any other protein you fancy) cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Lemon Grass Stalk
  • 2 Inches Galangal
  • 2 Cloves garlic
  • 10 grms Steenbergs Nasi Goreng Spice Blend
  • 6 Birds Eye Chilli’s (seeds removed and chopped very finely)
  • 1 Bunch Coriander (Chopped Finely)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 small cup (approx.) Crispy Fried Onions
  • 3 Spring Onions, cut at an angle
  • 1 Lime (used as a condiment in the finished dish)
  • 2 Tbls (approx.) Kecap Manis
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

WP_20150606_19_31_59_ProThe Chicken needs marinading in the Galangal, Garlic and 1/2 the Birds Eye Chilli (3), and the Lemongrass, chop everything as small as you can and add along with 1/4 of the Kecap manis, stir and put aside whilst you prepare the other ingredients.

WP_20150606_19_42_35_ProNasi Goreng usually (always), has an Egg component. Rick Stein added a Fried Egg to his version of the dish, I was going to adopt a different approach and make a ‘Coriander’ Omelette, with some Birds Eye Chilli’s to add some spice.

Take your 2 Eggs and whisk, adding a really good hand full (check the picture above, you want lots), of chopped Coriander, add Salt to Season and the remainder of finely chopped birds eye Chilli’s (3). So the result was not too greasy, I put some oil in to a frying pan, and then wiped it with kitchen paper just to leave a thin layer. Use a medium heat as you don’t want to overcook the Omelette, flip and then cut into small squares about 1 c.m. as you can see in the picture above, next to the Spring Onions with the Nasi Goreng mix looking impatient!!

WP_20150606_19_53_13_ProIn order to ‘taste test’ the Steenbergs spice blend I needed to separate the cooking stages, the marinated Chicken cooked in one pan, whilst the impatient Spice Blend got added to the Basmati Rice, with the Spring Onion (another texture component), the Chicken should be cooked in 2 – 3 minutes, whilst the Rice is getting its treat in the other pan.

WP_20150606_19_54_22_ProAdd the remaining Kecap Manis to the Rice and mix well, remember we want to preserve as best we can, the different flavours elements to get the most out of this dish.

Halfway through cooking the Chicken I used an Egg Slice to half the Chicken pieces, giving them a final 30 seconds to 1 minute to finish. You don’t want to overdo this stage, the Chicken should be soft and moist, not dry and chewy.

There are some further garnishes you can add to the finished dish, Sliced Cucumber, and the same of Tomato. I had some speciality ‘Kumato‘ variety from the Isle Of Wight, and some Organic from Riverford, use the best you can get as it adds even more interest to this flavourful medley.

WP_20150606_19_57_05_ProAlmost done now, this dish is actually very quick to put together.

The cooked Chicken is added to the Rice at the last minute, the Coriander Omelette added, and everything ‘gently’ combined, you don’t want to mix the flavours together, the Chicken will have some spice and pungency, the Rice, flavoured with the spice blend and Kecap Manis will have its own flavour profile. The Omelette adding its own to the dish, with more hits of Chilli and the fragrant Coriander.

WP_20150606_20_02_50_ProWhen plating up, you can arrange the Cucumber Overlaying the Tomato (or Vice Versa!), the Kumato variety are the darker slices, then sprinkle the fried crispy Onion over the top and add a wedge of Lime to season as you like.

So, my verdict on the Nasi Goreng spice blend provided by Steenbergs, absolutely amazing. As with their Ras el Hanout which I use lots of, each component is blended separately so not only do you get taste and flavour, you get texture as well.

As I said from the outset, I am not a fan of spice blends but this one WILL be added to my next Steenbergs order. The speed at which the Nasi Goreng was produced, along with the really lovely flavour which resulted is well worth the investment.

If you want to try some and have a go at the recipe above then look HERE

Thanks to Sophie and Axel for the sample, now onto the Organic Lemon Oil.

Until next time…………………L8ers

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 5)

FHP Days last few days 043I made this; yep really did, honest, it’s really not too difficult, well it’s not easy either but with a decent Chef guiding you along the way its something anyone can do, with a bit of practice……Oh, and my new good foodie friends Caroline, Sue and Hai Lin, we were having so much fun, cooking, joking and laughing together like a bunch of naught school children. I was the only ‘bloke’ on the cooking course, Carolines’ husband Gerrard was staying in the house with us and took time out to visit some of the local highlights whilst we were cooking, joining us for meals and some of the outings.

It’s a shame that the saying, ‘all good things come to an end’ was true in the case of my Gourmet Explorer Experience, at the amazing French House Party.

In case any of you are wondering, I paid the full price, and the single supplement, the only discount was a few quid I got of the BA flight as I had some Avios points to cash in, so my opinion is based on a considerable financial investment out of my very hard earned money.

Was it a worthwhile investment, HELL YEAH……………

FHP Days last few days 003We were back in the kitchen with Jean-Marc on the last day of cooking and as ever, the level of learning was intense. First job was to make the ‘Choux’ pastry, something I had never done before and it was very hard work indeed, breaking into a small sweat as the Flour and Eggs had the life beaten out of them!!

IMG_0241We started the prep for the Choux Swans first, good job as the various stages involved took some time. Make Choux, find piping bag, can’t find nozzle, improvise, pipe wings (profiterole above, cut in half), pipe bodies, bit like a snail, then make a small piping bag out of grease proof paper and do the necks, then cook until golden and crispy.

IMG_0234Please excuse me whilst I go off on a tangent briefly. Earlier in the week you make recall the Lobster Ravioli we made, the garnish for this was a Lobster Claw and some of the meat chopped finely which had been baked in the oven. We had forgotten it during the excitement of plating up and discovered the tray in the oven when it was too late. So to improvise, we ‘knocked up an amuse bouche’ using the remainder of the creamy lobster sauce and filling some small shot glasses adding some shaved Romanesco for texture and some herb for colour contrast and fresh flavour.

IMG_0244That Jean-Marc fellow is a clever chap and thoroughly decent bloke (as was Robert Abraham in fact), taking Cream of Broccoli Soup to a planet way beyond our solar system.

I tolerate Broccoli, it’s not one of my favourite vegetables but the Creme froide de Broccoli aux moules croustillantes’ was simply outstanding. Whats that I hear you ask, Broccoli Soup with Crispy Mussels. Whats happens at FHP (French House Party) stays at FHP and we learnt a couple of Chef’s tricks to make this dish seriously amazing, so to learn what, you will have to go for yourself.

IMG_0245If, like me, after seeing all this food you are starting to feel a bit full believe me, you should be in my shoes 😉 I’ve never eaten so much SERIOUSLY GOOD FOOD, day after day…….Stuffed is an understatement, with a considerable sense of achievement and I have learnt so much, my cooking confidence has taken a serious shift upwards which makes me feel really good inside.FHP Days last few days 012Today’s main course was really interesting, you can see it in the place setting above before it was devoured by ‘moi’, Gambas roties a l’estragon.

You need some 6/9 calibre Gambas, seriously you do, I believe it maybe a size thing so go for some decent sized Tiger Prawns and that’s about the size we were using.

The potatoes in the pan above were ‘turned’ and stuffed with………..Rhubarb. Yes you read correctly they were quite delicious and a massive surprise, we all thought they would just not work, they did. A rich sauce accompanied the Gambas, with a good glug of Ricard to provide a further hint of Aniseed, (I bought a Litre at Toulouse airport, purely for cooking purposes you understand)!

FHP Days last few days 013I have decided that I will let you into a minor secret tip, its not too secret so I am hopeful my friends and those at FHP will forgive me this one indulgence. Caroline did not get her fingers burnt above whilst cooking this dish, there was more risk from the Mandolin we had to use in order to get very thin potatoes, which sandwiched a couple of Tarragon leaves before being fried in Oil (Or clarified butter for a more golden, and richer flavour). Oops, that’s it, the crispy Tarragon potatoes which were also served with the prawns.

FHP Days last few days 044After lunch we were whisked off to Domaine Gayda, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees it’s a relatively young winery built in 2004. Dedicated to organic farming methods, Gayda has achieved certification for its ‘Figure Libre’ range and uses traditional hand-picking methods ensuring the highest quality product through focused care, and considerable attention to detail.

IMG_0247The place was spotlessly clean, evening after we had walked through the above area and to the left, where the barrels were ‘sleeping’ the floor was hosed to ensure no ‘nasties’ had crept in on our feet. It would have been rude not to taste some of the wines, we worked our way through 4 or 5 different varieties (I suspect it might have been more).

I decided to invest (it was a quick decision) in a couple of bottles, one being a VERY special late harvest dessert wine, made from three separate grape pickings. Only 3000 bottles have been produced, it was bottled in Jan 2014, from grapes picked on one date in September 2011, and two dates in October 2011, its very special indeed (and delicious).

IMG_0258This year is a BIG year for me, that magical age of 50 is racing towards me and to celebrate, a table at Raymond Blancs’ Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons has already been booked, enticed by the experience of 2 Michelin stars, something I have yet to explore…that is until FHP!

OMG, the itinerary had stated that we were to visit a couple of local eateries whilst on the Gourmet Explorer, but the 2 Michelin Starred La table Franck Putelat in Carcassonne was COMPLETELY unexpected.

IMG_0262The first amuse bouche came out on the ceramic log above, delightful macaroons, filled with a Foie Gras cream, blindingly delicious, little delicate fish balls, with a paper thin crispy coating and intense seafood jellies, on a crisp wafer it was definitely fine dinning. Followed by a beautiful Asparagus Soup, with an Aspic foam and Hazlenut Oil.  AWESOME…….

IMG_0264The first course was a mixture of White and Green Asparagus, with an amazing sauce and poached egg, with textures from local ham.

IMG_0269The main was OUTSTANDING, Pyrenees Lamb head to heart, with Boudin Noir (black pudding), peas and sauce……..and the dessert.

IMG_0271Rhubard, Bergamont leaves, Semolina Cake and Kumquat Sorbet……….Stuffed 😉

FHP Day 1 and 2 005So there we have it, the Gourmet Explorer care of the Award Winning French House Party, a massive thanks to Moira, Robert, Jean-Marc, Regine and Emma for such an amazing time, it should be on your list of top things to do, but be quick as its very popular.

……….Until next time……………………..L8ers

(Oops, in my haste I forgot to mention Andy. Part of the all-inclusive nature of FHP here there is a chauffeur service incuded to collect you from either Toulouse Airport or Carcassonne.  Andy is another member of the team who might collect you, an also take you to one of the restaurants and get you safely back to base, MANY thanks Andy)

 

 

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 4) part deux

FHP Day 4 028Today’s cooking was ‘intense’, I mean that in a positive way as we must have been in the kitchen for about 6 hours, priceless when you have a Michelin starred Chef on hand to tutor and guide you through the most delicious (and visually stunning) dishes.

FHP Day 4 011Take one Monkfish, head removed and do your ‘thing’ with a sharp filleting knife, we set to work preparing our next dish, Medallions of Monkfish with Saffron.

Sounds simple from the description but the reality was completely different! Removing skin, discarding scrappy bits and prepping two beautiful fillets, learning more knife skills on the way it was a great experience.

FHP Day 4 001The Monkfish was to be served with seasonal vegetables (Fennel, Spring Onions, Broad Beans, Carrots and Artichokes) and a rich sauce, enhanced with some Garlic, Squid Ink and Olive Oil which you can just see in the top picture, it tasted sublime.

FHP Day 4 020The starter we prepared is well worth a mention as it required the use of ‘whipping’ cream, which you may recall was going to be a challenge. Bavarois de poivrons doux sour coulis de tomates acidulées, impressive to say the least, a dish of Pepper and Tomato which was very light but absolutely packed with flavour and tasted delish.

This was one of those occasions where we had to slightly adjust the menu, the cream we had would not whip so the use of a small amount of Gelatine was required to get the Pepper Bavarois to the right consistency for ‘quenelleing’.

IMG_0238Mille-feuille translated means a thousand leaves, and I’ve always fancied a go but never got round to it, until now!

Puff Pastry layered with ‘Crème Pâtissière’ it was surprisingly straight forward to do, and has got me thinking about how I could use the Jelly making technique we learnt in the Salmon Tartare dish on the 2nd day with Robert, to create a  dessert layered with fruit flavoured Jelly and Crème Pât, watch the blog for my experiments on this.

We settled down for the evening and chatted over cheese and wine, in fact that was the routine most evenings when we were not out and about in nice restaurants. Its true to say we did eat quite a lot of cheese, and very nice it was too.

Another day beckons tomorrow and more fun in the kitchen, along with another tour, this time a Vineyard.

 

………………Until next time…………L8ers……….